Devon artist Melissa Muldoon gets her inspiration at the water’s edge

PUBLISHED: 15:22 13 April 2015 | UPDATED: 15:22 13 April 2015


Natalie Millar-Partridge meets an artist who gets inspiration – and raw materials – at the water’s edge

A squirrel designA squirrel design

Melissa Muldoon is a driftwood sculpturist and illustrator, inspired by the beautiful coastline in Dawlish where she grew up and has returned to live for the past five years. From an early age Melissa discovered a love for the world of arts and crafts and evidently has spent her life absorbed in what she can create.

Having previously lived in Ayre on the west coast of Scotland, it was there she discovered the beauty and versatility of driftwood. When she returned to her childhood home, Melissa transported a tonne of Scottish driftwood in a roof box to continue with her new found passion of creating sculptures out of washed up treasure.

“There is a noticeable difference between the driftwood found on the coast of Scotland to that of the driftwood found on the beaches in South Devon.” Melissa explains. “The driftwood found in Scotland is very dark in colour with a rugged, Atlantic aesthetic whereas the wood found in Devon is finer and smoother, also lighter in colour from being sun bleached.”

She first became inspired to create sculptures out of driftwood by a heart that she had seen for sale. She decided to apply her talent and create her first ever sculpture of a driftwood heart - a gift for her aunt. After this initial heart was made, friends and family began asking for further driftwood creations and so the story of her beautiful sculptures began.

Melissa says her sculptures are very distinctive in style and she can spot them anywhereMelissa says her sculptures are very distinctive in style and she can spot them anywhere

After building up a collection of work, Melissa took part in Devon Open Studios, where she displayed her sculptures and crafts around her home including her beloved Sebastian, the largest and most rugged seahorse, made from driftwood found on the West Coast of Scotland.

The process of getting to grips with creating the sculptures took Melissa a couple of months, with the aforementioned Sebastian being a lengthy work in progress. “Friends and family watched him grow over the months as he was placed on the kitchen table for the duration.” Melissa recalls.

To begin with Melissa’s sculptures sold very much by word of mouth, after which she began displaying a few pieces in local cafés and bars. Melissa now takes regular commissions and exhibits her work through TAAG - Teignmouth Arts Action Group, a Teignbridge funded organisation. The exhibitions see her display her largest driftwood sculptures amongst many of her other. “When I exhibit in Teignmouth, people often wander off to the beach, returning with a bag of driftwood for me.” Melissa recollects.

Melissa feels Devon is very much her home and where her heart will always be. She cites her inspiration as coming from a love of nature, wildlife and in particular the seaside. “The most pleasurable part of my work is when I’m combing the beaches collecting driftwood and various other washed-up materials. I love to breathe in the sea air and take in the surrounds.” She enthuses.

Melissa says her sculptures are very distinctive in style and she can spot them anywhereMelissa says her sculptures are very distinctive in style and she can spot them anywhere

Passionate about the connection and interaction her work gives her with people, she loves to witness their reactions to a particular piece she has created: “One of my favourite things about the world of art is that it is all about pleasure. It is such a personal thing. I love the reaction of joy to something that I have created.”

Melissa spends one day a week collecting driftwood and another day preparing it to be used. She explains that when working on her sculptures she can never quite predict how they will turn out. Each and every piece is different, which is part of the beauty and individuality of her creations.

She tells me the time length for each sculpture can vary greatly, being anything from two days up to a couple of months. “With all the right materials I can finish a piece in a few days though to complete particular sculptures it can take weeks for the perfect pieces of driftwood to be found.”

Whilst she’s combing the beaches she usually has three or four sculptures on the go at once. Her favourite spot, great for finding intricate pieces, especially suited to her smaller sculptures, is Boat Cove, Dawlish. Melissa says her sculptures are very distinctive in style and she can spot them anywhere. This is due to her technique of weaving the wood in, which creates an aesthetic that is different from most others around.

It’s taken five years to get to the level of popularity Melissa has today. Through her hard work, creativity and principle of only using reclaimed materials for her works she has become something of a name, commonly known amongst locals as ‘The Driftwood Lady.’

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